Brooks seemed to do it all, from demonstrating his soft touch around the rim to forcing his way into contact in the post in search of a foul to boxing out for boards. His 10 points and five rebounds in the first half were just a preview for what was to come for him once North Carolina emerged from the locker room still within reach of the Blue Devils, 42-34.
He opened the second half with eight points in just under six minutes, playing well off of fellow big man Armando Bacot before the first-year picked up his fourth foul — a moment that Anthony called "deflating" — with over 12 minutes remaining; Bacot was promptly called to the bench until the six-minute mark.
“I didn’t have a reaction at the time," Brooks said. "I was just trying to get our guys together because we gotta keep playing. Unfortunately, the game won’t stop for Armando if he gets his fourth or fifth foul.”
Brooks didn't stop either. He continued to bully his way into the paint and converted three of four free throws while knocking down a pair of jumpers in the paint with Bacot on the bench.
“Just being aggressive," Brooks said. "That’s about it. The aggressive one is always going to win.”
But his efforts weren't enough to single-handedly help the Tar Heels match the dominance of Carey. The Duke first-year erupted for 18 points in the second half to capitalize on Bacot's absence.
“Vernon took over the game," head coach Roy Williams said.
Despite the loss, Brooks' run of strong play couldn't come at a much better time for North Carolina. The Tar Heels will need to make it through a gauntlet of five games in five days during the ACC Tournament to have any shot at a bid for the NCAA Tournament.
With Brooks playing his best basketball, the Tar Heels are confident they can string together wins in Greensboro, despite having a three-game winning streak snapped.
"Why wouldn't I be?" Anthony asked.
After the show that Brooks, who proclaimed himself one of the best bigs in the ACC after the loss, put on in Durham, teammate Brandon Robinson had all the faith in the world that the forward has the potential to will UNC through the next week of games.
“Yeah, I think he can," Robinson said. "I know he’s capable of it.”
As one of UNC's worst regular seasons in program history was capped off with a loss to rival Duke, Brooks and his teammates were just excited about the clean slate ahead that could serve as yet another opportunity for Brooks to display just how much his game has matured recently.
“We’re 0-0, so it’s like a new season," Brooks said.
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